Writing: Crash Test

This is a flash fiction piece written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge:

Crash Test

“No matter the number in your bank account, everyone deserves a shot at forever.”

The salesman leans in conspiratorially. “Honestly, Model B’s offer the best bang for your buck anyway.”

I sincerely doubt that this guy, with his pointy-toed shoes that cost as much as my apartment, would be caught dead in a Model B. One step up from a sentient trash can, the Model B’s are rigid plastic in a dusty tan tone. Of course, you can upgrade skin coloring and texture, but if you could afford upgrades, you wouldn’t be considering a Model B in the first place.

“Just the basic Model B,” I say, regretting not having saved more for retirement. The fancy throw pillows on the couch of my thirties would have paid for soft silicone skin in my choice of tone. The weekly tanning sessions from my forties would have bought a chipset and audio package to simulate my voice. And the tropical cruises of my fifties cost enough to buy a Model C… or better.

But we didn’t know, back then, that living forever was just over the horizon. And I didn’t know, back then, that an octopus of out-of-control cells was budding in my right breast.

“All righty,” sings the salesman. “Would you like the Sun and Sound package for $500 more? The exterior surface darkens by six shades when exposed to UV rays, plus an internal sound system to listen to your favorite tunes in the cloud.”

My cloud. My cloud contains six music files from long-dead musicians, a few hundred emails, three unfinished crosswords with strangers, two seasons of a television show that went off the air two decades ago, and a handful of text files with the passwords to every defunct website in the history of the net.

“No thanks.”

“Sure thing. We also have the Surf and Turf package, which includes water and sand protection. We spray the…”

I pull out my debit card and he notices the baby blue color–the color for consumers who have just enough money to pay for the essentials. The people who know what it’s like to use a shopping bag for toilet paper.

“So just the Model B then,” he finishes. Typing the last few keystrokes with a smile and flourish that conceals about 98% of his disdain for me.

“When would you like to schedule the transfer?” he asks, swiping my card and pretending not to notice that I hold my breath until the transaction pings back approved.

“Are there any openings today?” I ask, feeling the gasping shortness of breath creep over me.

He looks me over with genuine surprise. Aside from a little paleness and a certain rheumy reddening around the eyes, I appear fine.

“Is there an issue which necessitates a rush?” he asks. Such delicate phrasing. If only I had tip money, I would give him the full twenty percent.

“The cancer… it’s…” I don’t want to say it. All of the words sound over-dramatic and ridiculous. It’s eating me alive. It’s killing me. It’s stealing my breath. Here I am, about to load my consciousness into a life-sized mechanical doll, and I can’t even say out loud that the cancer has infiltrated all of my systems and is bringing me down like the Hindenburg.

The salesman puts his hand over mine and squeezes.

“Say no more. There aren’t any openings, but I can play with the lunch breaks…” he types and swipes, then looks up with a smile that is actually an apology for my impending death.

“…and we’ve got it. You’re in for 12:15,” he looks at a watch that could buy a dozen Model B’s. “That’s twenty minutes from now. Does that work for you or do you need more time?”

I do need more time, which is why I’m here.

“No, that’s perfect. Thank you.”

###

The transfer center is one of the most sophisticated laboratories in the country, yet it looks like a dentist’s chair wandered into a Buddhist temple. They lay me down and speak in comforting tones about marginal kill rates and transfer data aberrations.

I don’t care. I’m not some college kid trading my beer belly for a hard-bodied Model R. If the transfer doesn’t work and I disappear, I’m no worse off than I was a day ago. A nurse in scrubs leans down to my ear and hers are the last words I hear in my rotten meat body.

“Don in sales is such a sweetie. He comped you Sun and Sound…”

###

After the transfer, I walk to the testing center where my husband works. It’s nine miles, but my new feet don’t care. They just keep moving.

The line for jobs at the center is long, but as an employee’s wife I’m ushered to the front. A thirty-second wireless diagnostic determines that my Model B is brand new and ready for work. No resume, no references. That’s all they need to know. Three years of struggling through the disabilities of a dying body and here, in this metal doll, I’m employable within the hour.

I change into an orange jumpsuit and yellow-black crash stickers right in the employment office. I no longer have genitals that will make anyone blush.

“You can go on up to the third floor testing room,” says the intake manager. “You’re lucky. We have an opening with Bill.”

I watch my husband’s last two crashes from the test floor. The car he’s sitting in slams into a cinderblock wall and his plastic head shatters the passenger window. A man–a meat man–with a clipboard swears and shakes his head.

“Still not right.”

Bill exits the sedan and sees me. We Model B’s look nearly identical in our orange jumpsuits, but somehow, he knows. Sun and Sound kicks in and Angel of the Morning begins playing in my head. He puts his lips on mine and plastic meets plastic. They don’t fit together anymore, but the love is still there.

Author: tjaneberry

T.J. Berry is a writer of speculative fiction living near Seattle.

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